NY Times again ignores conservatives' previous support for judicial empathy

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

The New York Times again reported Republican attacks over President Obama's "desire for justices with 'empathy,' " without noting that numerous conservatives have stressed the importance of personal experience and compassion in judicial nominees.

In a July 15 article about the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor, The New York Times again reported Republican attacks over President Obama's "desire for justices with 'empathy,' " without noting that numerous conservatives, including Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, have stressed the importance of their personal experience and praised compassion as a judicial attribute.

The Times reported that "[b]y forcing Judge Sotomayor to retreat from Mr. Obama's desire for justices with 'empathy,' Republicans have effectively set a new standard that future nominees will be pressed to meet. The Republicans hope their aggressive questioning of Judge Sotomayor on race discrimination, gun control and the death penalty will make it harder for Mr. Obama to choose a more outspoken liberal in the future."

In fact, then-President George H.W. Bush cited Thomas' "great empathy" when he announced his selection of Thomas to serve on the Supreme Court. And during his confirmation hearing, Thomas cited personal experience as "a contribution" he would make to the court. Thomas said: "And I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does. You know, on my current court I have occasion to look out the window that faces C Street, and there are converted buses that bring in the criminal defendants to our criminal justice system, bus load after bus load. And you look out and you say to yourself, and I say to myself almost every day, 'But for the grace of God there go I.' "

More recently, during his confirmation hearings in 2006, Alito highlighted his compassion for people involved in immigration and discrimination cases and discussed the importance of his personal experience. Fifty-four Republicans then in the Senate voted to confirm Alito.

As Media Matters for America has noted, other conservatives, including Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), and former Sens. Al D'Amato (R-NY), Strom Thurmond (R-SC), and Mike DeWine (R-OH), have also highlighted the importance of judicial nominees' compassion and personal experiences.

From the July 15 Times article:

As the two parties skirmish over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, some of their rhetorical fire is aimed not at her but at the next justice President Obama may get to pick.

After three days of testimony, Judge Sotomayor appeared to have made no major mistakes that would jeopardize her confirmation in a Senate dominated by Democrats. So both sides are trying to use the Judiciary Committee hearings to define the parameters of an acceptable nomination in case another seat opens up during Mr. Obama's presidency.

By forcing Judge Sotomayor to retreat from Mr. Obama's desire for justices with "empathy," Republicans have effectively set a new standard that future nominees will be pressed to meet. The Republicans hope their aggressive questioning of Judge Sotomayor on race discrimination, gun control and the death penalty will make it harder for Mr. Obama to choose a more outspoken liberal in the future.

Liberal activists, by contrast, hope the hearings demonstrate that a Democratic president has nothing to fear from Republicans who have not rattled Judge Sotomayor. If she is confirmed by a commanding vote that includes a number of Republicans, the activists argue, they will have given Mr. Obama more political running room next time to name a more full-throated champion of liberal values.

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